Bret Harte High eyes Vallecito move

Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat

Bret Harte Union High School District's Board of Trustees voted Monday to move the alternative Vallecito High School to the main Bret Harte High campus in Angels Camp.

The alternative program, which currently has about 13 students and three full-time teachers, will occupy classrooms in Bret Harte's science wing.

Meanwhile, a new science building funded with bond measure money will give science classes more space.

Vallecito High School serves students who struggled in Bret Harte's comprehensive program and need to recover course credits. It is currently located at 3670 Church St. in Vallecito.

Moving Vallecito students will save money on both staff salaries and building and maintenance costs, said Bret Harte Superintendent and Principal Mike Chimente.

Trustees also voted Monday to finalize a layoff notice for Matthew Strahl, the district's alternative education principal.

"We're going to continue to provide that ability to recover credits in a small educational setting," Chimente said. "I would hope that … in a few years, people will forget that the Vallecito High School building is out there."

Chimente and trustees first considered switching Vallecito to the main campus in spring 2012.

At that point, they decided it should stay put after hearing from Vallecito teachers, who read letters from students leery of the move and said the separate campus was crucial.

One teacher said moving to Bret Harte's campus would be a painful reminder of the students' earlier failures there.

Chimente promised Tuesday that the program will stay separate next year, but added that the switch will allow Vallecito students to take advantage of Bret Harte's vocational classes.

The district may sell the old Vallecito building in the future, he said.

Also on Monday, Bret Harte trustees finalized layoff notices for both teachers and support staffers. Some are full layoff notices, whereas others entail a reduction in working hours.

The pink slips mean two teachers will leave Bret Harte altogether next year and that fewer course sections will be offered. Six math class periods, five senior seminar sections, four social studies sections and other class periods will evaporate.

The district initially planned to lay off more teachers, and several got pink slips in March. That prompted protest from staff members who suggested trimming costs in other areas first and pointed out that staff has already been cut.

Since then, the school's financial outlook has improved somewhat, according to Chimente. He said the district's property tax base, which supplies most of its revenue, seems to be recovering.

No Bret Harte teachers accepted the retirement incentive offered by trustees in a bid to avoid layoffs this year.

Mother Lode school budgets have generally improved this spring, thanks to the passage of a temporary tax increase and a slowly improving economy.

But Sonora Union High School District, Calaveras Unified School District and Vallecito Union School District all offered retirement incentives to reduce their staffing levels and control costs.

The Union Democrat
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